Guest blog post written by Phil Comeau
(This article has been translated from the original in French).
When I was young, I was rebellious. At 13, my dad gave me his 8mm camera, and that probably saved my life because cinema immediately became a passion. Shooting videos to better express my feelings was a revelation for me, as well as a new freedom. Then came my first amateur movies (all bad!), shot with my friends. In high school, I wanted to seduce my fellow students to this beautiful artistic medium, so I founded two clubs, one in theater and the other in video, and we made productions. But until then, this hobby was just a distraction. I did not see how I could live on cinema.
While I was studying drama at the Université de Moncton, the stars aligned. The National Film Board of Canada opened a studio in Moncton, encouraging the training of young Acadian filmmakers. I wrote and directed my first fiction film LA CABANE (1977), a film about the conflict of generations, to exorcise my adolescent discomfort. This film was followed the next year by another fiction film called THE GOSSIPS (Les gossipeuses, 1978), which is a comedy about gossip that I wrote and directed while thinking about my funny aunts. The public loved this film and still today, it is a cult film in Acadie. Students mute the volume and imitate the dialogue track and accents while watching the film. Since these first two NFB productions, I have shot a hundred projects in fiction and documentary. Some movies were easy to shoot, others were nightmares, but through each experience, I grew and gained experience as a filmmaker.
My recent film BELLE-ÎLE-EN-MER, A BRETON AND ACADIAN ISLAND is a documentary film that I wanted to do so much that I was ready to pay for it out of pocket if I could not find funding. Indeed, no traditional funder or television network wanted to take part in the project. But I refused to give up. I was convinced that there was a beautiful subject here, charming characters and an environment of sublime beauty. While I didn’t realize it at the time, this lack of funding from conventional networks would in fact be a blessing. I was going to make this film the way I wanted, with an artistic freedom that did not need to meet the standard rules of TV networks.
Fascinated by the Acadians who live in Belle-Île-en-Mer, an island in Brittany, France that I had visited a few times, I wrote my script in lyrical form, like a long love poem. Inspired by these people, I wanted to pay tribute to the courage of their Acadian refugee ancestors who had settled there. For me, this is a miracle of survival and their resilience, a remarkable human value. The inhabitants of Belle-Île have maintained their attachment to our Acadie, despite a separation of two and a half centuries and a distance of five thousand kilometers between our two coasts.
Once the script was ready, I submitted it to artsnb through their Creation program, and crossed my fingers. And the answer was positive! It allowed me to hire a good film crew. I shot the film during the commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the arrival of the Acadians in Belle-Île, while a group of Acadians from New Brunswick was visiting. All the characters of the film played along with pleasure. After filming, I received funding from the National Film Board of Canada’s Independent Filmmaker Assistance Program (ACIC), which allowed me to hire a good post-production team. The film features sensitive editing by Julien Cadieux (originally from Shediac), an ingenious sound concept by Serge Arsenault (originally from Bathurst), and a breathtaking musical score by Frédéric Chiasson (originally from Lamèque Island). The film finally only cost $7,000 out of my own pocket.
A series of surprises would follow. At the World Premiere of the film at the 30th International Festival of Francophone Cinéma in Acadie (FICFA) in Moncton, the film got its first award. The film then went on to win another 20 awards at other festivals, making it a record for a New Brunswick film. And ironically, TV networks, which had refused to finance the project, bought the film for broadcasts! Radio-Canada broadcast it in Canada and the international network TV5 Monde translated it into 10 languages, and broadcast the film in 151 countries!
I always say “Never give up”! For every project, funding is crucial, but over the years, I have learned that when a film project does not get all the funding you want, you should not be discouraged. You can adapt your project by making it more inventive, more artistic, more touching and with endearing characters. A personal film is always better appreciated by the public anyway.
I am currently finishing the post-production of VAGUE D’ACADIE, a film on the Acadian music artists who are making a name in the French North America and French Europe. There are so many good film subjects here in New Brunswick that have not been filmed yet, that the challenge for me is always to see which of the film ideas joggling in my head is the one that is the most urgent for me to write and direct. For me, shooting a film is as visceral as needing oxygen.
List of the 23 awards received by BELLE-ÎLE-EN-MER, A BRETON AND ACADIAN ISLAND
Best Short Documentary Film – ARFF (Paris, France)
Best Documentary – Largo Film Awards (Lausanne, Switzerland)
Best Documentary – ShortCut Cinefest (Bucharest, Romania)
Diamond Award, Best Foreign Language Documentary – Directors Awards (Bali, Indonesia)
Special Jury Award – Formosa Festival of Int. Filmmaker Awards (Taichung, Taiwan)
South America (2)
Best Documentary Short Film – 7th South Cinematographic Academy Film & Arts (Rancagua, Chile)
Best Cinematography in a Short Film – 7th South Cinematographic Academy Film & Arts (Rancagua, Chile)
North America (16)
Best Acadian Short Film, FICFA (Moncton, NB)
Platinum Remi Award, Cultural Category – WorldFest (Houston, TX)
Award of Excellence, Best International Shorts – Canada Shorts Film Festival (Toronto, ON)
Award of Merit, Documentary Short Film – Best Shorts Competition (San Diego, CA)
Award of Merit, Direction – Best Shorts Competition (San Diego, CA)
Award of Merit, Script/Writer – Best Shorts Competition (San Diego, CA)
Special Jury Mention – Cinema on the Bayou Film Festival (Lafayette, LA)
Honorable Mention – Headline International Film Festival (Vancouver, BC)
8 Awards of Excellence for Best Short Documentary, Director, Screenplay, Producer, Cinematographer, Sound Design, Soundtrack, Editor – Southern Shorts Awards (Roswell, GA)
List of the 22 other official selections
Europe and Middle East (13)
Moscow Shorts International film Festival (Russia), Barcelona Planet Film Festival (Spain), International Short Film Festival Beverin (Belgium), Gold Movie Awards Goddess Nike (London, England), Feel The Reel International Film Festival (Glasgow, Scotland), Bucharest ShortCut CineFest (Bucharest, Romania), Short to the Point (Bucharest, Romania), Woodengate Film Festival (Baia Mare, Romania), Festival insulaire de l’île de Groix (France), Les Nuits Cajun (Saulieu, France), Festival 24 images seconde (Florac, France), Festival CineFil (Lorient, France), Near Nazareth (Israel).
North and South America (9)
Los Angeles Independant Film Festival (Los Angeles, CA), Fondecoin Independant International Short Film Festival (Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela), Ficmarc Carribbean Sea International Film Festival (Pampatar, Venezuela), Oaxaca FilmFest (Oaxaca, Mexico), Rendez Vous Québec Cinéma (Montreal, QC), Festival de cinéma de la ville de Québec (Québec, QC), Atlantic International Film Festival (Halifax, NS), Charlottetown Film Festival (PE), Silver Wave Film Festival (Frederiction, NB).
Acadian director and screenwriter from Moncton, Phil Comeau has produced more than a hundred fiction and documentary films. His films include standalone films and series. He has also shot three documentary feature films SECRETARIAT’S JOCKEY, RON TURCOTTE (Ron Turcotte jockey légendaire), THE NATURE OF FREDERIC BACK (Frédéric Back grandeur nature), ZACHARY RICHARD CAJUN HEART (Zachary Richard toujours batailleur), an Acadian feature fiction film JEROME’S SECRET (Le secret de Jérôme) and two feature television films: CRASH OF THE CENTURY (Le crash du siècle) in co-production with France, and TEEN KNIGHT with the United States. Phil’s films have won more than 70 awards at festivals in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Broadcast on more than 75 TV networks in some 200 countries to date, many of his films have been translated into several languages. For his contribution in creating and promoting Acadian and Canadian cinema, Phil has received the Order of Canada, the Order of New Brunswick, l’Ordre des francophones d’Amérique, the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government and the Order of La Pléiade by the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF). Globetrotter, Phil has visited 50 countries and has directed films in Canada and 23 other countries. He is the President of the Front des réalisateurs indépendants du Canada (FRIC).
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